The venue where the Antakya Christian Church gathers is a rented former courtyard house in the oldest part of the city of Antakya. It is not overly large – but we’ve been gathering in this location for over ten years now and, well, it feels like home.

It is known in the immediate community, and over the years, many have come and visited with us there, sharing in our special occasions, Easter and Christmas and many other events.

But it is rented. The rent, as rents do, continues to increase year on year. In the beginning, the fellowship was able to meet the rent. However, over the years, we’ve passed the point where the believers are able to do so; every month there is now a short fall.

In former times, the landlord, a Turkish, ‘Greek Orthodox’ gentlemen whose house is adjacent, would provide his large garden and its most important feature, in the midst of his garden, a large water feature for Fellowship baptisms. It was within this water feature that a number of believers have been baptised.

Sadly, our landlord has passed-on and with his passing, so has passed the opportunity to use his ‘water feature’ as our impromptu baptismal pool.

Recently, a brother declared his desire to obey the Lord in the waters of baptism and that raised the question of where were we to do this?

In the past, in addition to the landlord’s water feature we have conducted baptisms in the Mediterranean Sea. The sea sounds like a idyllic place to be baptised, but the reality is, it is over thirty kilometres away and large sections of the beach are subject to a vicious rip-tide. Added to this is the complication of transporting everyone who would like to be there to the baptismal location, thirty or more kilometres there and naturally, another thirty or so kilometres back. A local venue is our clear preference.

As it is our understanding and practice that baptism is by immersion; a bucket or font does not fill the bill.

One possible solution was to construct a ‘water feature’, that is a baptismal pool, at the building we rent for the church, but:

• we are renters – we may have to move at some time in the future

• the property is small, and to put an adequately sized ‘water feature’ in the stone clad courtyard would dominate the courtyard to such an extent that it would impede our fellowship times, fellowship meals, and the children’s work

• we can not built the baptismal pool indoors as, well, there really isn’t any space to do so within the church building.

And so was born the notion of building a ‘water feature’ in the courtyard of our home, which belonging to the elder and will always be available for our use, and use it for Fellowship baptisms. Our courtyard is larger, and whilst the Baptismal Pool will dominate it, it would not impede the activities that occur in the courtyard.

So, we embraced this solution with the desire to have it built and established quickly to enable our brother to be baptised.

Two young people from the United Kingdom came down to help with the refugee ministry and, they declared, in any way they could be of a help.

We took them at their word.

They helped with the refugee work. They helped with the children’s work. And they helped with this baptismal pool project.

We felt that if we built the baptismal pool on top of the courtyard floor and with it being deep enough for a baptism, it would stand rather tall – too tall. Consequently, it was decided that we would drop the bottom of the pool lower than the courtyard floor. In this way, with part of the pool below the level of the courtyard, less would be required to stand proud – the required depth would be created without being too high in the courtyard.

To go lower than the courtyard required breaking open the floor and digging down sixty odd centimetres. This was no mean task.

Digging the pit is a task in and of itself, but it is not just the digging, but also the bagging up of the spoil and then lugging it out of the way, that makes this such a laborious task. With over one and a half cubic meters of compressed soil, broken up and dumped into bags, this equated to a disproportionately large number of bags.

The need to dispose of all the bags was a constant pressure dogging me. It is not enough to create the hole, it was not enough to bag the spoil, at some point it would need to be dragged, lugged, cajoled or otherwise removed from the courtyard and loaded (let the reader understand ‘lifted’, hoisted, manhandled) up into a lorry for transportation and disposal… somewhere.

The courtyard tiles were carefully lifted and cleaned as they were needed elsewhere, and our two, hearty and hail young people threw themselves at the task of excavating the hole.

Slowly, layer by layer, the pit, about 1.70 meters by 1.86 meters rectangle, was excavated. Beneath the courtyard tiles there was a sand layer of about five to seven centimetres deep – we bagged this relatively clean sand up separately as we felt it may be required later in the build (it was). The sand had been laid over a compacted layer of stones. Together this formed the base of the current courtyard tiles. Below this, as we dug deeper, we passed through various levels until, at about 60 centimetres down, we encountered an old level surface. This appeared to be constructed of cement, so, it would not be really old. As this was at about out desired depth, we stopped excavating.

I confess, it was rather satisfying to look down and see a smooth, flat bottom to the pit.

However, it was less than satisfying to look all around at the bags and bags and bags of spoil. All the bags were hand filled.  Some were on the light side, easy to shift, and others were beyond my ability to shift without extreme difficulty.

It was important that the sides of the hole be perpendicular and we did work at it to ensure they were so. And, to a degree, they were… to a degree… but, in reality, they really were not.

The young people, having expended their energies and sweat, returned to the country from whence they came and the labour baton was passed to a Turkish workman who does this sort of rough construction – forms, hand mixed cement, block walls and such.

He informed me that he had experience in this kind of thing, that he had made a large pool for his children and their friends to romp around in and it has never leaked.

I found that very encouraging.

He convinced me that he was the one to do the task and besides, I dreaded the notion of mixing a lot of cement by hand, and I have no real experience laying blocks.

Before he began his task of pouring a floor in the pit and building the sides, he jumped in the hole and measured the top and the bottom of the hole. He then declared that the top was larger than the bottom. True, my eye, which is not very accurate, did note a discrepancy.  His measured discrepancy was significant – accumulative over two sides was about 15 centimetres, on the one axis and the same on the other axis.

Now that is a large discrepancy, about seven centimetres per side.

In my ignorance, I thought he would trim the sides of the pit, creating more spoil, and make them truly perpendicular; that this approach would be easier, better, and result in a stronger structure.

I assumed he would make the bottom measurements the same as the top, with straight, perpendicular sides, and that then he would pour the floor and then build the walls.

The measurements at the top of the pit are true, framed by the courtyard tiles. To make the sides right it would mean excavating the bottom reaches of the sides to extract the excess soil – I acknowledge that this would be an added task, but I did not perceive that this was an overly taxing or difficult task.

Alas, no…

His first chosen task was to ignore the wonky sides and dig a hole in a corner to accommodate the sump pump. A sump pump was required as we could not put a drain in, partly because of the depth and mostly because we did not want to tear up any more of the courtyard tiles than necessary.

Leaving the sides as they were, his next task was to cut and put some steel rods in the bottom of the hole and then to hand-mix sand and gravel and cement in a pile on the floor of the courtyard. The idea is you roughly turn the pile over and in so doing, you mix the cement into the sand and gravel. Then you make a depression in the middle of the pile with walls formed out of the sand, gravel and cement, creating a lake-like basin. This space is then flooded with water.

Once sufficient water has pooled in the ‘lake’, you carefully chop slices off the interior side of the walls, that is the walls which are all there is holding the water in. These delicate slices of sand, cement and gravel are drawn into the centre and mixed with the water.

Thus, in this manner, slowly, slowly, the original dry pile, has been turned over and flooded and mixed until it is a large sloppy, soupy mixture on the floor of the courtyard.

To cement the sump pump depression, he first, carefully, put some of this cement mixture in the bottom of the newly excavated hole and then placed an old paint pail on top of the concrete. He then poured the cement around the sides. In this way, it would be encased in cement – the plastic paint pail would remain in-situ and provide the venue for the sump pump.

Then the remainder of the cement mixture was poured, pushed and coaxed so as to fill the bottom of the hole, carefully lifting the steel bars off the floor of the pit in the process.

This task being done, he departed.

On the following day with the cement now set, our rough builder set about building the walls of our Baptismal pool.

I did wonder if he would just make the pool smaller, using the bottom width of the pool his guide and build the walls straight up from there. This would result in a smaller pool and a gap between the tiles and the wall.

That was not his plan…

The constructing of these walls was one of the more intimidating aspect of the work for me… the walls need to be right, true and well built as they will, after all, be charged with holding in a tonne or more of water.

Turkish building block – Tuğla –

The chosen building material for the walls was ‘tuğla’, a special block made out of clay and formed with a hollow, lattice interior structure. These blocks are first sun dried and then baked hard in a special oven. This is the ubiquitous building material in Turkey for walls.

They are also some what brittle. Personally, I am not so keen on them, but, as I said, they are rather ubiquitous in Turkey. They are also comparatively cheap.

Now, our rough builder had been at pains to point out to me that the sides of the pit were not perpendicular. In assessing the problem he had determined that the solution to this problem was to knock off bits of the block, that is to reduce the size of the blocks laid at the bottom of the pit so that when the wall reaches the courtyard floor level we would be able to carry on using full sized blocks.

In other words, he decided to make up for the difference in the size of the hole (smaller bottom, larger top) by reducing the size of the blocks in the bottom of the walls of the hole.

I wrote this twice as it was not what I expected, nor desired.

In this way, at the courtyard level, the blocks will be their full 15 centimetres (full sized), but, as he was aggressively knocking half of the block away (sometimes more than half) at the bottom this meant that the bottom row of blocks were a mere seven centimetres wide.

I didn’t say anything partly because I reasoned that as the soil is the backdrop to the walls, the thinner wall will have nowhere to go, the soil behind it will hold it place… but, I wasn’t happy with his methodology.

Alas, it also transpired that the special hole for the sump pump was poorly located and actually came under the path of the wall – even the curtailed, reduced wall blocks. I feared that if this was not properly addressed at some point, then it would provide a weak point – an easy path for the water to escape from our enclosure.

Now, throughout the two days of rough construction, including the essential building of the block walls, our rough builder had brought along a ‘helper’, someone less skilled than he to do the simple tasks and the basic grunt work.

After the walls were, er, ah… custom trimmed and built up to the level of the courtyard, the rough builder departed as he declared that he had some other business that he had to attend to. He was adamant that he would be gone ‘no more than half an hour.’

Now, culturally, when a Turkish speaker gives a time reference it is not intended to be a precise, digital reference. That is to say, “half an hour” is not intended to mean thirty minutes duration. It is more the emotional intent – what he was saying was he would be gone a relatively short while, do not worry…

He left his semi-skilled ‘helper’ behind to carry on the task of building the walls up to the finished height.

In the event, we didn’t see the rough builder again until the task was completed and he had to return to pick up his helper, his tools, oh, and to be paid…

Now, to be honest, the helper worked to the best of his limited ability. It is true that the size and shape of the finished product will be a lasting monument to his skill set. Suffice it to say, a master block layer he, most definitely, was not.

At this point I also learned that it seems our rough builder has a tendency to over purchase material – to avoid running short when doing a build. The problem for me is that he charges for all the material that he has brought, used or otherwise!

Now, I acknowledge that I should pay for what was used, this is as you would expect. But it was a… er… surprise for me that I was expected to pay for all the extra that he didn’t use. He had no intention of carting the surplus away, and some of it was brought in preparation for the plasterer, nevertheless this was not what we needed, wanted or expected.

Indeed, it was a rather unpleasant turn of events.

However, on the positive side, he did load all the spoil; lugging, dragging, lifting, hefting, hoisting it all on to his lorry and then he deposited it somewhere. As I said, some of the bags were a doddle to lift, and others were beyond what Health and Safety would ever condone being hoisted by anyone.

Removing all the spoil almost made his exorbitant charge worth it – almost, but not quite. I still smart when I think of what he was paid. It was the agreed price… no one to blame but me – I agreed after all…  There are times when I make bad deals… and this was one.

Now with the walls so built, it does not look like anything that could hold the waters of the baptismal pool in place. I was informed and assured, by the rough builder, that the plasterer, would line the inside of the pool with a mesh and use a special plaster that is more or less water proof. He was adamant that this combination would be able to withstand the pressures of the water.

From our projects in renovating our flat, we knew a Master Plasterer. He had been sent out to work as a child and hence, learned his trade the old fashioned way. On the plus side, he really is a master of his art, but, on the other side, he didn’t choose this profession and he doesn’t really enjoy it.

Currently he has found other employment, which still involves his plastering skills, but the work is more varied, and most importantly, the pay is more consistent. We called him to come and examine our project. In his examination, complete with a tape measure and a level he found that there were quite a few challenges before him.

It seems on careful inspection that the new block walls were not straight, were not level, and the structure was not square. It could have been; actually, it should have been, but, alas, it was not. The shape of the pool had its own, unique, kinks and quirks.

The task for the Master Plasterer was to try and straighten out and correct some of the fundamental flaws and make the top of the walls level.

On the day he came, our first task was to go and source the essential mesh which would reinforce the walls… but as we traipsed from shop to shop, he couldn’t get the mesh he wanted. In the end he settled on some plastic coated wire mesh – good stuff, but harder to work with.

Initially he said he would put the mesh on the inside and on the outside of the walls of the pool – he had measured and had me purchase sufficient material for this.

Affixing this metal mesh proved to be an unexpectedly difficult and labour intensive task. At times it seemed as if the wire mesh had a mind of its own. Even once it was fitted and secured in place, it would sometimes find it within itself strength to pop away from the wall, or to refuse to stay in the selected position that had been determined. The plasterer used nails to try and keep it fixed in place until the plaster has been applied… sometimes to no avail.

He had arranged that we would have ‘black sand’ (brought by the rough builder) for this stage of the project. He said it is the best for this task. Also, he sourced a special package of something or other which was to be mixed with the cement and sand and will make the finished plaster, water… er… resistant…

After wrangling the mesh into place and standing in the pool, he expertly applied the ‘mud’ to the walls, embedding the mesh. The notion is, the wall provides form and shape and basic strength, but it is the wall, plus the mesh, plus the plaster in combination that will, ultimately, be sufficient to contain the water. As the water pushes outwards, the mesh, embedded in the plaster, will counter this powerful force. Hence, it is the wall augmented and strengthened by the mesh and plaster which are reinforcing one another, which will resist the outward pressure of the water; kind of like a Chinese finger puzzle – the more pressure, the stronger it seems to be.

As he worked, it became clear that at one place the plaster is just thick enough to bury the mesh, at another it is three or four centimetres thicker to make up for a wobble in the wall. It is a challenge to make right something that is, well, rather wrong.

When the interior was done, he carefully extradited himself and was about to commence the exterior walls. Now, initially, he said he would apply the mesh to the inner and outer sides… now, because of the difficulty in working with this plastic coated metal mesh, he suggested this was not really necessary.

I disagreed.

I could be in error; indeed, the wire mesh may not be required on the outside; truly, at the end of the day, it may offer little structural support. But as we had the mesh, and as our initial plan was to lay it on both sides and as we had the workman to fit it, and as he was being paid for the task, I insisted.

He fitted the mesh.

In this way, all the mesh purchased was used – nothing left over.

He then applied the plaster, smoothing it, levelling it, aiming to make the best base for the finish which will be ceramic tile on the interior and stone cladding on the exterior.

He had to add more plaster to the top of the wall than he desired and felt was acceptable. But, as the walls were not level and they really needed to be.

At the end of the day, he was both done and done in. The pool looked much better – this is just the foundation for the finish, but it looks like something now.

As he was worn out, and as we had the ‘excess building material’ that the rough builder had delivered and I paid for, it was agreed that I would take the Master Plasterer home (he lives in a nearby village) in the church van. We would also take along the building materials that were extraneous to our needs. We know that he could make good use of the building material and we appreciate him and he did put the mesh on the outside as I desired, and he is a jolly nice bloke.

With the pool now prepared, we needed a Master Tiler cum Stone Cladder.

Again, due to the renovations we had been involved in, we just happen to know a Master Tiler.

Before he came, I was sent out to source the tile. In so doing, I found I had the choice of one ‘pool’ tile, and, thankfully, everyone approved of it.

For the exterior, I had in mind a specific type of stone – travertine. I love stone, and travertine is, to my eye, a very pleasant stone. I was able to source and purchase the travertine – it comes from the west of Turkey. It was about the same price as ceramic tile so did not impact the cost of the project, but will look so much better in the courtyard when it is finished.

Now this tiler is a Master – he really knows his trade. He is the one who tiled the upstairs flat, over 90 square metres. He prepped the floor, found the ‘centre line’ and drew out the tiles from there and it took him but one day to do the entire flat.

A wonderful job which was very done as well.

I thought, “For a master tiler, this wee little baptismal pool should be a trifle.”

And I suppose it could have been except everything was off.  Nothing was square and nothing was true. The plasterer had brought it much closer to true… but much closer is not the same as true.

Our Master Tiler set to work and completed the inside walls of the pool in a couple of hours.

Great.

But the exterior stone cladding, well that took a lot of time. And the floor of the pool, that was a real challenge for as as you work, you run out of a place to stand and the high walls prevent you from leaning over to complete the task… and the sump pump hole presented its own, unique challenges partly because two sides were under the edge of the wall… and it was a round hole. He is a Master Tiler, he wants the sump pump to look good as well.

In any event, by the end of the day, the task was not yet completed. He completed a 90 square metres flat in one day, but our wee pool, proved to be such a difficult challenge that one day was insufficient time.

He returned in the morning, to grout the interior and to cut and place the stone cladding for the top of the walls. These walls that are 20 centimetres thick on one side and are 17 centimetres thick on another – even the most basic elements are not true.

Throughout the project, he was cutting the travertine stone using an angle grinder with a large stone cutting wheel fitted. At one point we noted that the cutting wheel was damaged (chunks missing at the cutting edge), nevertheless, with no alternative and no spare cutting wheel, he carried on. This is definitely not what is recommended by those involved in Health and Safety. You could argue, nor is it recommended by simple common sense.

We were near the end of the stone work. In fact, we are at that stage that his helper was cleaning tools – an essential task and one left to the end of the job. The Master tiler was himself cutting one of the last stones with the angle grinder. I’m standing off at the other end of the courtyard trying to stay out of the way of the dust.

Suddenly there was this almighty BANG … I mean it was sudden, it was very loud, and it was absolute… sharp, abrupt and unrestrained. It emphatically declared something had gone very, very wrong.

The Master Tiler’s helper, who had been standing in front of the angle grinder abruptly dropped what he is doing, his hands instinctively flying to his head and he twisted and turned away, walking towards the end of the courtyard. My first thoughts was injury to the face/head.

Thankfully, he was not injured, just shaken up with a serious smack to the face and a few minor cuts. Everything missed his eyes!

It transpired that the cutting wheel, spinning as it does at an extremely high speed had burst apart; all parts of the disintegrated cutting wheel being propelled at that extreme speed away from the angle grinder. The tile master himself, was aware of the danger, and had angled the machine away from himself. He was unscathed.

The bulk of the cutting wheel, with the largest pieces which had been, thankfully, expelled backwards, away from the helper in front of the angle grinder, had flown towards our flat and towards our closed front door.

The largest piece struck the window in the door where it pierced the glass and after creating a massive hole in the window, continued travelling all the way down the corridor to the far side of our flat. The corridor was liberally littered with debris, glass and bits of the cutting disk.

Thankfully, T was not in the corridor at the time but in a side room.

That was… er… exciting.

We were all extremely glad no one was injured.

And, as is in the nature of things, the work continued.

Finally, the master tiler finished his task and now the baptismal pool looks proper. His workmanship was 100% but he was paid less than the rough builder – life is not fair.

I paid him an honest amount – he would not take more. It was the rough builder who had the inordinate recompense. The rough builder, too, has a family to support and being a small builder, work can be inconsistent – paying him more, whilst it irked me, is providing essentials for his family.

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To finish off, we had a wooden cover made for the baptismal pool. This enables the baptismal pool to function as a table when we prepare the assistance for the Syrian refugee field workers. It also is effective in keeping the children from falling in when it is not in use.

IMG_3034

The pool is complete, and has been commissioned – we recently had our first baptism.

The construction process has been a bit of an adventure.

What really struck me was how the walls alone could not do the task, and how the walls and plaster could not do the task, nor just the walls and the mesh… all three elements are required to make the whole complete and strong and up to the task.

Reminds me that God saves, the Holy Spirit in-dwells and the Church – the Body of Christ – provides the living context for the living out of our Faith. Or to put it another way, we have faith and trust in the finished work of God in Christ, we have the Holy Spirit abiding within us to encourage us to walk in the Way and to give us power to do so, and God has established the Church, our brothers and sisters in Christ – we are not alone, but need one another.

All three elements are necessary.

They are necessary for the baptismal pool to function.

And in the same way, all three elements are necessary for me to grow in Grace and in the Knowledge of God.

One thought on “Three parts…

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